Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand

The Chocolate Thief (Amour et Chocolat #1)
By: Laura Florand
Publisher: Kensington Books


Cade Corey has lived and breathed chocolate her entire life, but she craves more. As a member of the Corey family, renowned for their ubiquitous and affordable chocolate bars, she grew up used to the fame and fortune that comes from belonging to a family business that mass-produces sweet treats devoured by the thousands. But Cade would rather tap into the knowledge possessed by the most exclusive chocolatiers in the world, masters whose delicacies are carefully-crafted works of art, mere moments of bliss on the palate worth hundreds. Sure she can fulfill her duties as the family's heir apparent and indulge her passion for artisanal chocolate, Cade travels to Paris, confident she can leverage the Corey name and the  millions at her disposal to persuade a master chocolatier to lend his name to a new, more exclusive -- but still affordable -- line of Corey chocolate. She sets her sights on Sylvain Marquis, Paris's top chocolatier, a man whose confections are as sinfully delicious as his smoldering gaze. But Cade never counted on the Corey name having no cachet in Paris, or Sylvain's refusal to be bought tempting her to launch an audacious plan to steal his secrets -- a plan that, if she's caught, may cost her more than her reputation -- the price exacted may be her very heart.

Florand's first entry in her chocolate-and-Paris themed series is a heady blend of passion and dessert, wrapped up with the language of romance -- a quality a fine chocolate and the City of Lights both speak with aplomb. Cade's enthusiasm over her first trip to Paris, and the innocent, almost childlike way in which she desperately wants to learn Sylvain's secrets reminded me a bit of Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina. Though their backgrounds couldn't be more different, Cade shares Sabrina's passion to belong to a world that seems just out of reach, alluring in its veneer of unattainable exclusivity.

There is something undeniably intoxicating about The Chocolate Thief, as Florand peels back the layers of mystery surrounding the creative process that goes into making the world's most indulgent treats. But for all the allure possessed by chocolatiers of Sylvain's ilk, this novel is a fairy tale whose conceit oft-times stretched the bounds of credulity to the breaking point. Chocolate making is an integral part of the seductive web Sylvain weaves around Cade, a method Florand lays bare in heady detail. However, I found the fact that Cade -- a supposedly intelligent businesswoman -- would jeopardize her personal and professional reputation by repeatedly breaking into Sylvain's studio both unprofessional and unforgivably stupid. And then there is the shenanigans both she and Sylvain engage in within the vicinity of food preparation, which promptly canceled any seductive factor due to the appalling hygienic issues involved.

Initially, Cade and Sylvain's relationship veers from adversarial to sexual with whiplash-inducing speed. I'll admit, the jaded side of me had trouble buying the insecurities Sylvain claimed to possess from his awkward adolescence. Chocolate aside, this guy was hot, and I have difficulty believing he didn't know it. But whatever, because his insecurities, however far-fetched, lent a modicum of sweetness to his blossoming relationship with Cade. Sylvain is invested in a future with his chocolate thief long before she is, while by comparison she too often seems embarrassingly indecisive and inept. That aside, Cade is at her best when she engages with her family (or Sylvain's), striving to honor her heritage and commitment to them while summoning the courage to pursue her dreams. And when that accord is reached, and Cade and Sylvain's relationship rests on more than their respective physical attributes, instead sharing a passion for each other and a future together, that is when the magic of Florand's fairy tale confection is at its best.

The Chocolate Thief proved to be a fairy strong, albeit uneven, introduction to Florand's writing. She has an uncanny knack for mixing romance with the seductive possibilities inherent within the sight, smell, flavor, and texture of food. This is a novel that revels in tactile, sensory experiences, and Florand brings those to life on the page with a masterful flair. While the progression of Cade and Sylvain's relationship -- and their respective characterizations -- left something to be desired, the exoticism of the French setting coupled with the story's resolution is a sweetly-rendered treat, and a world I'll definitely -- and happily -- revisit in the sequels.

About the book:

Breathtakingly beautiful, the City of Light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it's a dream come true, if only she can get one infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line. . .

Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marquis. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistful of dollars? Jamais. Not unless there's something much more delectable on the table. . .

Stolen Pleasure
Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cinderella teaser trailer

This teaser tells me absolutely NOTHING, yet I could not be more excited about this take on Cinderella:

Curses & Smoke Book Blast

Curses and Smoke

Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Arthur A. Levine Books
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Genre: YA Historical

When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?

TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But his warrior's heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she's been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air...

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them -- to Lucia's father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

Buy the Book

Barnes & Noble
Book Depository

About the Author

Vicky Alvear ShecterVicky Alvear Shecter is the author of the young adult novel, CLEOPATRA'S MOON (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra's only daughter. She is also the author of two award-winning biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. She is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta.

Author Links


Book Blast Schedule

Monday, May 12
Bibliophilia, Please
bookworm2bookworm's Blog

Tuesday, May 13
Broken Teepee
Passages to the Past
In the Hammock Blog

Wednesday, May 14
CelticLady's Reviews
The Most Happy Reader
I'd So Rather Be Reading
History From a Woman's Perspective

Thursday, May 15
Kinx's Book Nook
A Bibliotaph's Reviews
Historical Fiction Obsession

Friday, May 16
Booktalk & More
The Mad Reviewer
Book Lovers Paradise

Saturday, May 17
SOS Aloha
Reading the Ages
Kelsey's Book Corner

Sunday, May 18
Giant Squid Books
WTF Are You Reading?

Monday, May 19
Caroline Wilson Writes
So Many Books, So Little Time

Tuesday, May 20
West Metro Mommy
The True Book Addict
The Musings of ALMYBNENR

Wednesday, May 21
Book Nerd
Tower of Babel
Hardcover Feedback

Thursday, May 22
Paperback Princess
Bittersweet Enchantment

Friday, May 23
History Undressed
Historical Fiction Connection

Saturday, May 24
Literary Chanteuse
Just One More Chapter

Sunday, May 25
A Dream within a Dream
The Little Reader Library

Monday, May 26
Pages of Comfort
Griperang's Bookmarks
Raizza's Book Blogging Adventure

Tuesday, May 27
Princess of Eboli
Ageless Pages Reviews
The Musings of a Book Junkie


To win a copy of Curses & Smoke or a $25 Amazon Gift Card please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to US residents only.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on May 27th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on May 28th and notified via email.
Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Once S3 Finale Spoilers!

This Sunday Once Upon a Time ends its third season with a TWO HOUR finale. There are lots of good spoilers HERE, if you are so inclined.

Once has also been officially renewed for a fourth season!

To celebrate, I'm going to continue doing what I've done all week, which is stare at these photos of Hook and Emma from the finale, because they make my Captain Swan-shipping heart SO FRIGGIN' HAPPY.

Emma's dress! I DIE. That look on Hook's face? I CANNOT DEAL WITH THAT LOOK ON HIS FACE.

If this doesn't happen again...it's going to be a long summer hiatus, people.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: To Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn

To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons #5)
By: Julia Quinn
Publisher: Harper Collins
ASIN: B000FC1494


At twenty-eight and firmly "on the shelf," Eloise Bridgerton was content with her life as a spinster -- or so she thought. Within the arms of her eclectic family, she never felt pressured to marry, and so she held out for the right one, because she was not one to settle for second (or third or fourth) best. As the years since her debut passed, she became increasingly acclimated to the idea of the single life, especially with her best friend and confidante, Penelope at her side. But then Penelope went and married her brother, Colin (Colin!!), and while she was truly happy for two of the people she loved most in the world to find happiness together, she couldn't help feeling...stuck. And so when Sir Phillip Crane, the widowed husband of her cousin, Marina, her secret correspondent of the last year, proposed marriage, she decided to accept. Seized with desperation to claim her chance at a life she thought had passed her by, Eloise flees London before she can lose her nerve...only she neglected apprise Sir Phillip of her impending arrival, and so she arrives at Romney Hall to set her plan in motion, only to be surprised by Phillip's two (unruly) children, no chaperone, and a man equal parts maddening and intoxicating, his manners making her temper flare while his smiles turned her knees to jelly. Is marriage to a man she barely knows her only hope of happiness? Or will her reckless gamble see her married to a man consumed by past demons, one she could never love?

Phillip Crane has spent much of the last decade living a life he'd never wanted. The second born, all Phillip ever wanted was to escape his abusive father's reach, losing himself in his studies at Cambridge where he earned a first in botany. But everything changed when Waterloo took his brother's life, and Phillip found himself the heir to his father's baronetcy. He'd hoped to find a measure of happiness with Marina, his brother's now-bereaved fiancee, but their marriage is doomed from the start, as Marina is crippled by depression. Left with two children he barely knows, and if he's honest, fears to raise -- fears seeing his father's temper rear its ugly head as a twisted, emotional inheritance -- Phillip is every bit as lost as his late wife. But a chance letter from Eloise, a woman he's never met, leads to an unlikely friendship, and gives birth to a desperate plan -- he'll marry the spinster, she'll take charge of his children, and his life will finally be normal. When Eloise arrives, she's nothing like he expected -- gorgeous, spirited, and independent, she's the answer to all of his prayers...if only he can convince her to stay. But when their hands are forced and marriage is no longer an option but a decree, will love have room to grow? Or will happiness remain a dream unfulfilled, forever out of reach?

To Sir Phillip, With Love marks a transition in the Bridgerton series, as with Eloise's story Quinn begins to tell the tales of the four younger siblings that make up this quirky, loving family. The older siblings are now well-established in their lives and families, and the younger are at last given the spotlight in which to shine. Eloise has long been a fixture of the series, for as Penelope's best friend and confidant she unknowingly played a critical role in the Lady Whistledown saga that ran through the first four books, tying them together with columnist's famously droll observations about the ton's eccentricities. This installment is a bit of a departure from the winning formula of its predecessors, as Eloise makes the conscious, shocking decision to flee the only life she's ever known, risking everything on the wild hope that she could love a man she's never met, and thrive in a life outside the close-knit confines of her family.

The romantic in me loves a romance based on letters, and as such was thrilled with the premise behind Eloise and Phillip's connection, despite the decided lack of letters, romantic or otherwise, featured in the narrative. Rather than Whistledown excerpts, each chapter opens with an excerpt from Eloise's past correspondence with friends and family, revealing a glimpse of the woman she'd one day become, whose firmly-held views would undergo a trial by fire when she gambles her future on Phillip. Quinn's trademark warmth and humor are ever present throughout the story, if perhaps in a slightly muted form given the tragedy coloring the lives of the Crane family. I loved the impact of Phillip's "surprise" children on his attempts to court Eloise -- it reminded me a bit of The Brady Bunch, only twins Amanda and Oliver are first wholly opposed to the idea of welcoming Eloise in their lives. Pranks and tears ensue in turn en route to Phillip and Eloise's happily ever after, but Quinn imbues the journey with the warmth, sensitivity, and emotional depth I've come to appreciate as a hallmark of her fiction.

Eloise is a fascinating character, because up to this point she's been given an extraordinary amount of latitude in a culture that raised women to fulfill limited, specific roles. Her contentment with the concept of spinsterhood, and her family's support, enabling her to enjoy a measure of freedom not typically afforded to well-bred single women in her social sphere. But even a Bridgerton must pay the piper, as Eloise discovers to her mortification when her scandalous plans are uncovered, leading her four brothers to Phillip's door, where marriage, once just an option, becomes her future. I LOVED seeing all four of the Bridgerton brothers again, their typical easy-going camaraderie transformed into a formidable force when united in defense of their sister's honor, and the glimpse afforded into Benedict and Sophie's married life. And I loved that even in romantic, escapist fiction of this ilk, Eloise has to come to terms with the consequences of her choices.

Eloise and Phillip's love story is one of conscious choice, wherein the decision is made over and over to fight for the success of their unorthodox relationship. In many respects, these two couldn't be more different, their marriage a study in work and compromise. Quinn handles the impact of Marina's depression on her family with a compassionate touch, sketching the heartbreaking effect such an illness can have on those within its orbit. Therefore, Phillip's response to Eloise, his relief at marrying a passionate, capable woman masking his reticence to deal with his own emotional issues felt incredibly authentic. Once again Quinn crafts a romance that takes the relationship far beyond the physical, here delving into trickier emotional waters, forcing her leads to work through their respective fears and commit to each other and the health of their marriage.

Quinn has never been one to shy away from weightier issues in her romances (i.e., illegitimacy in An Offer from a Gentleman or parental death/mortality in The Viscount Who Loved Me), but this volume feels more somber in tone, perhaps due to circumstances surround Marina's death and Phillip's young children. Although less effortlessly humorous, less effervescent than its predecessors, Eloise's story stands out for its emotional resonance and the unorthodox origin of her love story. While the Bridgerton clan is largely absent from this tale, their presence is always felt, as Eloise discovers anew the import and gift that is her familial legacy as she scripts her life story. The tale of a woman determined to live life on her own terms and a man broken by his past, To Sir Phillip, With Love, is a tribute to the dreamers and the risk-takers among us, those with the courage to seize their dreams and the passion to see them succeed, one of Quinn's best portraits of marriage and commitment.

About the book:

She wrote him a letter...and he stole her heart.

Sir Phillip knew that Eloise Bridgerton was a spinster, so he proposed, figuring that she'd be more than a little desperate for an offer of marriage. Except...she wasn't. The beautiful woman on his doorstep was anything but quiet, and when she stopped talking enough to close her mouth, all he wanted to do was kiss her...and more.

Did he think she was mad? Eloise Bridgerton couldn't marry a man she had never met! But then she started thinking...and wondering...and before she knew it, she was on her way to meet the man she hoped might be her perfect match. Except...he wasn't. Her perfect husband wouldn't be so moody and ill-mannered, totally unlike the London gentlemen vying for her hand. But when he smiled...and when he kissed her...the rest of the world simply fell away. Could this imperfect man be perfect for her?

The UK cover!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Review: Sinners and the Sea by Rebecca Kanner

Sinners and the Sea
By: Rebecca Kanner
Publisher: Howard Books
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9525-0


A large, wine-colored birthmark has stained the nameless girl's forehead since birth, setting her apart as other, different, one to be feared. Left nameless for fear of bringing further calamity upon her life, she has lived as an outcast, only ever craving a name, a place to belong, and a sense of identity -- but instead feared as the spawn of a demon. At nearly twenty, long past the age when most girls have married and started families, the girl and her beloved father eke out a bare existence as outcasts among their own people. As tempers flare, and neighbors threaten to forcibly remove the marked girl's presence from their midst, her desperate father strikes a bargain with the one man who will look beyond his daughter's mark. Noah, a righteous man in a land of sinners, seeks a woman to wed and give him sons. Desperate to live, and desperate to save her father, the girl agrees -- and is given in marriage to Noah, a man hundreds of years her senior, who speaks to a God she doesn't know and whose purpose will change her life forever.

I'm always eager to try new authors who dare to explore the scriptures through the lens of fiction. For her debut, Kanner has taken the arguably unorthodox route of bringing to life the nameless woman who was Noah's wife, an individual referred to a scant handful of time sin Genesis, and only in passing, but whose impact on the world to people of faith is undeniable. Within the pages of Sinners and the Sea, Kanner seeks to illuminate this shadowy figure -- who was this woman, mother of nations through her three sons, forever immortalized in scripture yet never given a name, an identity? By giving a voice to Noah's wife, Kanner restores the feminine narrative to this history writ in patriarchy, examining the fall, the flood, and the world's rebirth with a voice whose impact was always present, undeniably important, yet has remained shrouded in mystery.

Noah's life and the story of the flood encompasses barely four chapters in Genesis, most of which covers time on the ark and subsequent descendants. There is little social context given in the pre-flood verses, and so, although "the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and...filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11), I was ill-prepared for the utter bleakness and depravity our marked heroine encounters when she journeys to Noah's home. Sorum is a land of outcasts, violence, and horror, with Noah as the proverbial "voice in the wilderness" speaking his message to a very un-receptive audience. Reading Kanner's account of the pre-flood society is not for the faint of heart, though it is eye-opening in its unvarnished depiction of unbridled excess and depravity.

I confess to being somewhat troubled by the novel's characterizations of Noah, and later his sons. This is an unabashedly feminist text, and as such I applaud it and the author for giving voice to the female side of the population in biblical times. Noah's wife is not an Esther, given a grand platform on which to stand -- in her everyday life she is, if you'll pardon the term, rather ordinary -- but that doesn't make her life or contribution or place in the Judeo-Christian tradition any less important. However, given the limited verses mentioning Noah or his sons, here they are painted an almost wholly unsympathetic light. Indeed, Noah is not redeemed to some degree until the very end of the novel, where he finally opens up about his struggles with doubt and fear to his still-nameless wife. Without clear scriptural basis, painting Noah and sons, particularly Japheth, with broad brushstrokes of extreme religious radicalism to the point of villainy is unsettling at best to this reader.

Sinners and the Sea is, in many respects, a gorgeously-rendered novel. Kanner has a gift for description and her prose has a fluidity that spins a heady web, pulling you into the story of Noah's nameless wife and her struggle to reconcile her mark, her lack of identity, with her husband's all-consuming purpose. In many respects this is the biblical version of a dystopian novel. Compared to novels I've read that have brought Jacob, Joseph, and David to life, Kanner's depiction of Noah's time has the other-worldly feel of a nightmare-ish fable. Seen only through the eyes of Noah's nameless wife, God is almost wholly absent, as Noah's faith is a foreign, strange thing to his wife.

I have mixed feelings about this book as a work of biblical fiction -- from the world, to the making of the ark, to the passengers who board it, there seems to be a greater mark of artistic license than I generally look for in fiction of this ilk. That said, this is a heart-breaking, thought-provoking story. With her stark, high-impact prose, Kanner paints a bleak portrait of the depths to which man can sink, where everyone is, to some degree, painted in varying shades of gray -- for much like the fiery madam Javan, Kanner forces readers to consider the oft-times dual nature of humanity, and how even in the midst of utter depravity, light can be found. While Sinners and the Sea takes a great deal of license with the biblical account of the flood, it is a powerful portrait of a woman coming into her own in a male-dominated world. A sinner can be a saint, and the righteous can fall short and sin, but I take comfort in God's constancy and provision, and that reminder is, perhaps, this dark, challenging, thought-provoking book's greatest gift.

About the book:

The young heroine in Sinners and the Sea is destined for greatness. Known only as “wife” in the Bible and cursed with a birthmark that many think is the brand of a demon, this unnamed woman lives anew through Rebecca Kanner. The author gives this virtuous woman the perfect voice to make one of the Old Testament’s stories come alive like never before.

Desperate to keep her safe, the woman’s father gives her to the righteous Noah, who weds her and takes her to the town of Sorum, a haven for outcasts. Alone in her new life, Noah’s wife gives him three sons. But living in this wicked and perverse town with an aloof husband who speaks more to God than to her takes its toll. She tries to make friends with the violent and dissolute people of Sorum while raising a brood that, despite its pious upbringing, develops some sinful tendencies of its own. While Noah carries out the Lord’s commands, she tries to hide her mark and her shame as she weathers the scorn and taunts of the townspeople.

But these trials are nothing compared to what awaits her after God tells her husband that a flood is coming—and that Noah and his family must build an ark so that they alone can repopulate the world. As the floodwaters draw near, she grows in courage and honor, and when the water finally recedes, she emerges whole, displaying once and for all the indomitable strength of women. Drawing on the biblical narrative and Jewish mythology, Sinners and the Sea is a beauti­fully written account of the antediluvian world told in cinematic detail.

*Thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for the review opportunity!